The Women’s Foundation of Colorado held a community discussion last week on gender equity and empowering women in STEM careers in Colorado Springs.

Colorado Springs ranks among the nation’s 25 best cities for graduates with STEM degrees, WFCO President and CEO Lauren Casteel said, but across the state they are much less likely than men to work in STEM careers.

The May 25 event at Catalyst Campus shared results from the WFCO’s recent research report, “Gender Equity in Colorado’s STEM Industries: The Case for Focused Workforce Investment.”

A panel discussion focused the challenges of attracting and retaining women in local STEM professions, how the Colorado Springs business community can promote gender equity and how companies benefit from employing a greater percentage of women in STEM positions.

The panel included Army veteran, engineer and Sigma Metals CEO Katherine Gaulke; RTA Architects Principal Stuart Coppedge; WFCO Vice President of Programs Louise Myrland; and Dana Barton, Pikes Peak Workforce Center director of business relations and employment development.

Summarizing the WFCO’s latest research, Myrland noted that while women are nearly half the workforce in Colorado, they make up less than one-third of the state’s STEM workforce.

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“This is talent going untapped, and we can fix that,” she said.

Myrland said research had borne out the “incredible ways companies can benefit with more inclusive teams.”

She noted that companies in the top 20 percent for gender diversity are more competitive than their peers in the sector, companies with more inclusive teams are generally recognized as more ethical, have higher levels of customer satisfaction, are seen as more innovative and creative, and have been proven to have better problem-solving abilities.

Companies with more diverse teams also enjoy a more stable workforce, with lower turnover and associated hiring costs.

Despite these benefits, women continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields, she said.

“Today we are focused on how to support women in the STEM workforce and how to support companies in engaging women more effectively. It really begins with an understanding of what sorts of barriers women are currently facing when they are employed in the STEM fields,” Myrland said.

“Not only do women report high levels of having to consistently and repeatedly prove their competence, …they have to walk a really fine line between being perceived as too feminine to be credible, or too masculine to be likable.

“They are facing assumptions that other people make about them without ever consulting them: about diminishing levels of commitment to the company, to the role, to success for the team overall, when they just happen to be of childbearing years.”

Myrland highlighted the National Center for Women in Information Technology’s model for strategic change as a way for employers to address internal company culture and benefit from greater gender inclusivity.

Read more about gender equity in Colorado Springs’ STEM fields and coverage of local industry leaders’ panel discussion in the June 9 edition of the Colorado Springs Business Journal.